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President calls; president answers

In his first freshman address as Yale president, Peter Salovey ’86PhD talked about his immigrant grandparents and the American Dream: how, "in two generations, a family can rise from modest means" to head "the finest university" in the world, thanks to education.

Five months later, Salovey's message found an even more prestigious audience: Barack and Michelle Obama. The Yale president and leaders of more than 100 other colleges and universities—from community colleges to the Ivy League—joined the First Couple for a daylong White House gathering on "Expanding College Opportunity."

The event wasn't just talk. Its organizers—led by Yale alumnus Gene Sperling ’85JD, director of the National Economic Council—got each of the leaders in attendance to make new commitments for helping low-income students better prepare for college, find and apply to the schools that best suit them, and succeed once they are in college.

Yale's piece of the puzzle lies in recruiting more low-income students, who often assume they couldn't possibly meet Ivy League admissions standards or tuition costs. As David Zax ’06 reports in the current Yale Alumni Magazine, Yale's efforts are only beginning to take hold: last year, just 15 percent of Yale undergraduates had family incomes under $65,000, even though they attend for free.

"I’m thrilled" that Salovey accepted the White House invitation, Yale College admissions dean Jeremiah Quinlan ’03 says in an interview. "The key point here is that Yale only educates an infinitesimal percentage of the nation’s students. I’m excited about our commitments, but I’m even more excited that President Salovey is part of this broader conversation.”

Yale's commitments include:

* A 50 percent increase in freshmen admitted through QuestBridge, a national nonprofit that matches low-income students with elite colleges. From a baseline of 50-60 students per year, Yale "is now committing to enrolling 75-80 students who apply through this program for entry in 2014 and 2015," a news release says.

* Continuing Freshman Scholars—a free, five-week summer program for low-income and first-generation students, which Yale piloted on campus last year—and expanding it from 33 participants to 36 in each of the next two years.

* Joint outreach sessions with Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Virginia in 18 cities, beginning next fall. "These sessions will focus on a message of access, and be held in parts of the country where families do not typically apply to Ivy League institutions in large numbers," the news release says.

* Sending more than 300 “Student Ambassadors”—current students from minority and low- income backgrounds—to make presentations about Yale admissions and financial aid in more than 600 public high schools in 2014-2015. That's an increase from last year's 280 ambassadors, who visited 442 schools, Quinlan says.

* Sending outreach mailings to 20,000 high-achieving, low- income students—up from 16,000 last year. "These mailings will raise awareness on aid policies, provide counseling, and encourage fee waivers," the release says.

Expanding college opportunity “is a good area for mobilization,” organizer Sperling tells Bloomberg Businessweek. “If you could mobilize a large amount of colleges, having each step up their game, you could move the dial in this area.”

Filed under Peter Salovey, Jeremiah Quinlan
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